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Christmas is the last thing on the minds of two million forcibly displaced Palestinians in their homeland.
In all the ‘impossible’ things that have happened in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel from Gaza and the Jewish state’s homicidal response over the next 50 days, postponement of Christmas in Bethlehem must rank among the most unbelievable, but true.
For the first time in living memory (or if ever), annual celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ will not take place where the supreme Christian figure was born, in the Church of the Nativity, forcibly canceled because its surrounded by the stench of rotting bodies buried below Gaza’s hundreds of thousands of blasted and bulldozed buildings.
Spending Christmas sleeping out in the streets and winter’s cold is a 2023 reality Christians elsewhere will find hard to fathom or compute, far less swallow.
But it’ll also surely harden the world’s more-human hearts against the sustained disproportionate bombardments and killing of thousands of Palestinians unleashed by Israel through collective punishment in Gaza.
Christian or not, just to imagine: No Christmas ads or movies on TV, no one singing carols or playing holiday music, no Christmas Cards or online greetings posted, no lighted trees, jingling bells or holiday parties, no Midnight Mass on December 24, no leaving home on Christmas Morning -- and no Boxing Day on December 26 – and worse: no food, water, electricity or fuel, no hospitals or medicines, no telephone or online communication, nowhere to shelter from bombs raining down day and night and nowhere safe to go.
86 years after the sirens sounded for the Nazi genocide, the Spanish city of Gernika once again sounds the sirens in response to the Israeli genocide in Gaza. pic.twitter.com/fxy2335Qce
In the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), always highly-dependent on Food Imports for the usually-long Christmas seasons, average citizens this year worry even more about whether they’ll be able to afford the costs of imported food and holiday items that seem to rise every time they go to the supermarket these days.
But not in Bethlehem, where the only reminder of Christmas this year is winter, with no one alive spared from the resumed bombardments after a brief ceasefire that followed six weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment that had by then already left over 14,000 Palestinians dead in Gaza (including 6,150 children and 4,450 women), way-over 30,000 injured and 7,000 missing -- most feared dead below over 234,000 homes reduced to rubble by Israeli bombs, of which over 46,000 are unhabitable.
Christmas is the last thing on the minds of the nearly two million forcibly displaced Palestinians in their homeland -- and especially the 600,000 sleeping on streets in Khan Younis in Southern Gaza, where they’re still being bombed in a zone they were told (by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was ‘safe’.
Homes reduced to rubble and entire families wiped-out in their sleep, at dinner or prayers, at United Nations (UN) shelters or major hospitals in north, central and southern Gaza, over 1.9 million have more to think about at the start of the traditional Advent of the Christmas season.
Millions of Palestinian child left to mourn for ‘martyred’ parents, relatives or friends are grow-up in constant fear of not seeing tomorrow – or the next minute – and can’t even think of playing with toys in a land where they get shot and killed while playing football.
Palestinians lucky-enough to have had loved ones released from Israeli prisons cannot celebrate having them home for the holidays this year, lest they be rearrested and jailed again indefinitely.
Besides, many are forced to live in the wreckage of homes they worked hard and long for years to build, only to be blasted to bits in minutes while they slept.
The Apartheid Regime in #Israel has no respect for International Law, and the #EuropeanUnion failure to condemn the Israeli Genocide in #Gaza has done untold damage, not just to the EU's credibility, but to the standing of International Law itself - We are living in dark times... pic.twitter.com/VWY85eXXsV
Palestinians in the occupied territories will spend Christmas this year continuing to mourn more lost ones by the day, extracting bodies (and body-parts) from rubble with bare hands, to belatedly bury and bring closure to their long periods of psychological terror.
Instead of planning for Christmas, Palestinians are praying for peace through a ceasefire that will allow them to count their losses and pay deserving tribute to their lost loved ones, before the year ends.
The Arab organizers of annual Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem announced earlier this week that will be no Christmas celebrations at the Church of the Nativity in 2023; and the Israeli government gave permission to a far-right anti-Islamic group to hold a protest march at the Al Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third holiest -- where Palestinians had already been forbidden from worshipping since October 7.
Meanwhile, only 10 percent of the aid needed is being allowed to enter Gaza, while grandmothers are losing sons to bombs, bullets or disappearances and having to care for grand-children; mothers are losing sons and daughters and children are losing both parents.
On Dec. 6, another Al Jazeera correspondent lost 21 members of his family while reporting from Khan Younis, after an earlier colleague lost 19 family members and yet another lost his wife, son, daughter and grandchild -- and in all cases they were families sheltering in places they thought safe.
Christmas 2023 will be the most-deadly-ever, not only for Palestinian Christians, but also for many Islamic and Jewish citizens who observe the annual internationally-observed and heavily-commercialized season.
But Jews in Israel and worldwide on Dec. 7 launched the first day of their annual Hannukah celebration, highlighted this year by the presence of the Berlin launch at the Brandenburg Gate of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who lit the first candle in the land of The Holocaust.
And Christian-oriented Israelis, war or not, will be able to celebrate Christmas on December 25, even if Christian Arabs and others will not be able to make the usual trek to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ in the location The Bible says he was bornin in a manger and visited at birth by ‘Three Wise Men’ bearing ‘Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh’.
This year’s Yom Kippur – described as one of Israeal’s two ‘High Holy Days’ and also known as ‘Day of Atonement’ and observed on October 7 -- was supposed to have been a holiday when ‘Jews reflected on their sins and asked for forgiveness from God and those they have wronged’ and ‘also believe that God will decide if they will live or die in the year ahead…’
Instead, that day saw the costliest battle ever launched by Palestinians in the continuing 75-year War on them by Israel, in their own land and homes, as the occupying force continues pursuing its Mission Impossible of ‘eradicating Hamas forever’, while treating every civilian in Gaza as an armed Palestinian soldier.
But it certainly won’t be a Merry Christmas either for the families and thousands of supporters in Israel concerned about the safety of the 137 citizens and soldiers still held in Gaza (of whom over five dozen have reportedly died but haven’t been identified).
They’re demanding a ceasefire (until their relatives return home) from a very-reluctant Israeli government bent on continuing its bombardment at whatever cost, including lives of Israeli captives. And all of that while the rest of the world gets ready for Christmas 2023.